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Arguing Book Piracy

Last week, I saw a lot of authors linking to “Free” Books Aren’t Free, a blog post by author Saundra Mitchell talking about the costs of book piracy.

Let me state up front that illegally downloading books is stealing.  If you’re doing it, at least have the guts to admit you’re committing theft instead of spouting off excuses.

That said, I disagree with some of Mitchell’s reasoning.  She argues:

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month.

Yes, and if my dogs pooped gold, I could quit my day job.  But it ain’t going to happen.  Author Scott Nicholson guesses that 10,000 illegal downloads equates to maybe 5 lost sales.  I suspect he’s underestimating, and the true numbers are somewhere between his and Mitchell’s, but I don’t think there’s any way to say for certain.  I’m just not buying the argument that half of those downloaders would have actually bought Mitchell’s book (particularly since we’re talking about a hardcover.)

She goes on to say:

[M]y book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying. My foreign rights agent is a genius at what she does, and has actively tried to sell it everywhere- UK, AU, China, France, you name it, she tried to sell it there.  SHADOWED SUMMER will only be coming out in Italy, because that’s the only place there’s a market for it.

The implication being that piracy killed her chances at foreign sales?  I’m confused on this one.  Does the availability of a pirated English book really reduce demand for a Chinese edition of said book?  I suppose it’s possible … most countries are more multilingual than the U.S.  But it’s a stretch, and I’m not convinced.

[T]he sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more.

The thing that makes me hesitate here is that piracy is an across-the-board problem.  Every commercially published author’s books end up on torrent sites.  Some authors are still doing quite well.  Others, not so much.  So does it make sense for struggling authors to blame book pirates for low sales when other authors are selling well despite said pirates?

Mitchell says a lot I agree with, too.  If you can’t afford books, go to the library.  Try to get review copies.  Or maybe if you can’t afford the books, you just don’t get them.  Wanting a book doesn’t give you the right to steal it.

I agree with her that, “People who illegally download books are more interested in their convenience than in supporting the authors they want to read.”

I’m NOT saying book piracy is harmless.  (To authors or to readers either, for that matter.  Laura Anne Gilman recently pointed out another example of a torrent site installing malware with downloads.)  Bottom line, it’s a dickish thing to do.

And it does hurt authors.  How much, I don’t know.  I suspect it will hurt us more in coming years, as electronic reading becomes more widespread and book scanning technology improves.  Lost productivity alone is a serious cost for authors who try to keep up with DMCA notifications to various sites.

It pisses me off when I find people illegally sharing my books online.  And I think it’s important to educate readers.  But I don’t think it helps our cause to distort or exaggerate the problem.

Discussion welcome and appreciated.  I expect some disagreement on this one, and as always, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Jan. 18th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
Re: A different viewpoint
Now, wait a minute. Who said I didn't value my time? What I actually *said* is that I believe that I was made to write books, and that it is part of my purpose here on Earth. Therefore, that's what I do. I've pretty much given up on ever being published by New York (and it looks as if the shift to e-books may mean a different delivery method for books anyway), although that has always been my lifelong goal. It would be great to be paid for a book. But that's not why I write them. The time I invest in writing a book is time that I have used to try to fulfill what I believe is my destiny. Musicians rehearse. It takes me a couple of months to polish a piano piece for performance (amateur--classical; it's Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, the shorter pieces or one mvt of a sonata), and that time is not "paid for" or less valued. Professional entertainers spend a lot of time trying out routines and doing "takes" that get discarded. It's all part of doing the work. Do they know for sure that a song is going to sell when they're cutting the demo? Do comedians know if a routine will play in Peoria when they're trying it out? They don't. So this isn't the issue.

The issue is--are you writing because it is your calling, and would you go on doing it if you couldn't do it as a career for money? You might never grab the brass ring. Are you going to stop reaching for it?

I think it sort of reeks of hubris for people to price out their time for doing creative work, because creative work probably pays less than a penny a day when you take into account all the polishing, thinking, planning, typing, and so forth that has to take place. If you are doing it because you think the work itself has artistic value beyond whatever you make in money (even if it's not Great Art, it has the power to entertain and make people think), then that's not the same as "not valuing your time."

Jan. 18th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
Re: A different viewpoint
"Professional entertainers spend a lot of time trying out routines and doing "takes" that get discarded. It's all part of doing the work. Do they know for sure that a song is going to sell when they're cutting the demo? Do comedians know if a routine will play in Peoria when they're trying it out? They don't. So this isn't the issue."

As a data point, I know that the book I'm about to start working on will sell, because I've already sold it. Most commercially published authors pretty quickly move from writing on spec to writing under contract, meaning we've already been paid at least part of our advance, and the deal is already signed before we write the book.
Jan. 18th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
Re: A different viewpoint
*falls down sobbing with jealousy/envy*

That is the dream life. Seriously. Anyway . . . *sigh*

Well, I've made enough trouble here for one day. *grin* I just wanted to make the point that if only someone wanted to read my stuff at all, I would be floating on clouds. It would be such a compliment for people to read it. I absolutely don't agree with all these people pleading the case for why they download and "share" stolen intellectual property, though, and I think they show their selfishness when they post all about why they're justified in doing it ("I already own a printed copy of it, so I didn't want to buy it again" *facepalm*)

Our family friend Audra Mae is a new talent just signed by Warner Records (I'm sure they don't call it "Records" any more, though) and she has released a few MP3s via iTunes while working on her first CD. She is the granddaughter of Judy Garland's sister and of one of my friends--full disclosure--but anyhow, she is having such a tough time getting exposure because there is so much out there. There is no longer anywhere to showcase your new album or be on a variety show or be heard on Top 40 radio, really, so she is struggling. It's worse because people do steal her MP3s instead of paying $1 at iTunes, sigh. So . . . yes, the stealing bit is bad.

I'm just saying that, as illogical as it is, I only wish I had the problem of people wanting my books that much. *grin*
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
Re: A different viewpoint
I would like to read what you write. I'm always looking for writers who are new to me.


Jim C. Hines


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